Throughout the first week of Age of Exploration classes, the partnering pedagogy, described in detail in Marc Prensky’s Teaching Digital Natives, was spotlighted. I was surprised by how different partnering was from any other teaching style I’ve experienced. Our teacher, Mike, never just tells us the answer to a question, a tendency I’ve subconsciously come to expect from other classes. In class, we start out with a general theme, and we’re allowed to explore the theme (currently the Renaissance) and pick a research topic which interests us. In partnering, the relationship between student and teacher is built largely on trust and mutual respect. As of such, we are given an incredible degree of freedom in class. As long as we take responsibility for our own learning, partnering can help us grow as students. However, the same freedom which is in most cases advantageous can also be detrimental to the learning experience.
The partnering pedagogy is centered on technology. This provides us instant access to the millions of sources of valuable information on the Internet, but digital distractions pull at us from all sides. The first research day in class, we were given time to go on Google, Wikipedia, and various databases like Jstor and Gale Infotrac to read about our topics. I diligently made an advanced search on Google, coming up with a few quality resources. However, when I clicked on a .edu site to research the Age of Absolutism, within seconds, I found my eyes drawn to a flashy ad about Diablo III on the side of the webpage. This is an example of the biggest disadvantage of partnering. Are you distracted by the GIF at the top of the page? If so, you are facing the same problem students using the partnering method do every day. The sheer number of entertainment websites on the Web, many of which are prominent results when searching “Renaissance” or “Absolutism” on Google, are extremely distracting to us. If we want to succeed, we have to motivate ourselves to stay productive during the entire class period (something that’s much more difficult than it might seem at first).
Though distractions are difficult to escape, there are ways to manage them. Through my Age of Ex class, I have found that working with a partner helps keep both of us in check. However, technology and its downsides are here to stay, and we have no choice but to adapt to it. As Johann Hari said, “The idea of keeping yourself on a digital diet will, I suspect, become mainstream.” Many of us have already switched to that digital diet. Distractions are present everywhere, more so online than in the typical classroom, and learning self-discipline is a skill that will be of great use throughout the rest of our lives. I personally appreciate the freedom given to us in partnering, as I can challenge myself to be disciplined and mature as a learner. Partnering may not be the ideal learning form, but it’s definitely got its pros and I’m really looking forward to seeing what it has in store for me.